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resolutions market ResearchWe are now officially two months into 2017, which means it’s time to keep up with those New Year’s resolution goals. Resolutions can be difficult to attain in both personal and professional life settings. Recently, I stumbled upon an article by Crawford Hollingworth, an interesting read about behavioral science and its effect on New Year’s resolution goal attainment. As I was reading the article, I realized the suggestions for preparing resolution goals provided in the article also relate to the process of preparing a market research study. The four steps for developing a New Year’s resolution recommended in the article are: Make a plan, Substitute old behavior for new behavior, Make it easy, and Make only one New Year’s resolution. My view on how these strategies relate to market research is as follows:


1. Make a plan

The first step of the market research journey is to make an action plan. Figure out what the objective of your research is going to be – what do you want to know and from who do you want insight? Next, consider the methods through which you will obtain the most meaningful and useful results for your research objective. Finally, put together a schedule that includes every aspect of the research, including questionnaire design, fielding the survey, data delivery and reporting the research findings.


2. Substitute old behavior for new behavior

In the grand scheme of market research methodologies, there are plenty of approaches to choose from that will provide the results needed to make powerful decisions about your product or service. Of course, it is normal human behavior to have the desire to stick to what you know, and market research isn’t much different. However, methodologies are continuing to evolve and can provide findings in various ways. For example, TRC has developed methodologies such as Message Test Express™, Idea Mill™ and Bracket™, along with other solutions that are increasingly popular among the research we conduct. This is an opportunity to be creative and try methodologies that have been tested and offer proven results, which will allow you to view research findings from an alternative perspective.


3. Make it easy

In order to get reliable results from your research, it is best to start with consideration of the questionnaire design. Plan the design with the end in mind first, then work your way to the front; if you consider what you want to know first, the questions themselves will come together easily. This will allow you to easily interpret and analyze data during the final reporting stages. On the other hand, in terms of the actual survey, you want to avoid developing questions that are overly complicated or time consuming for respondents. Make sure the questions asked make sense and the instructions are clear and concise so that respondents can quickly grasp the idea of what you are asking of them.


4. Make only one New Year’s resolution

A colleague of mine, Rajan Sambandam, provided insight during a recent meeting about the scope of market research studies being “Broad and Shallow” versus “Narrow and Deep” that I found to be interesting. A take-away from his statement is that you should either have a broad and shallow scope through which you will have less informative findings about a larger group of topics, or a narrow and deep scope through which you will have an abundance of detailed findings about one topic. Instead of striving to accomplish both “broad and shallow” and “narrow and deep” research in one initiative, focusing on one or the other will provide the most meaningful and useful information to be applied to your product or service.

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economistOver the years our clients have increasingly looked to us to condense results. Their internal stakeholders often only read the executive summary and even then they might only focus on headlines and bold print. Where in the past they might have had time to review hundreds of splits of Max-Diff data or simulations in a conjoint, they now want us to focus our market research reporting on their business question and to answer it as concisely as possible. All of that makes perfect sense. For example, wouldn’t you rather read a headline like “the Eight Richest People in the World Have More Wealth than Half the World’s Population” than endless data tables that lay out all the ways that wealth is unfairly distributed? I know I would…if it were true.

The Economist Magazine did an analysis of the analysis that went into that headline-grabbing statement from Oxfam (a charity). The results indicate a number of flaws that are well worth understanding.

•    They included negative wealth. Some 400 million people have negative wealth (they owe more than they own). So it requires lots of people with very low positive net worth to match the negative wealth of these 400 million people…thus making the overall group much larger than it might have been.    

•    For example, there are 21 million Americans with a net worth of over $350 Billion. Most of them would not be people you might associate with being very poor…rather they have borrowed money to make their lives better now with the plan to pay it off later.

•    They were looking at only material wealth…meaning hard assets like property and cash. Even ignoring wealth like that of George Baily (“The richest man in town!”), each of us possesses wealth in terms of future earning potential. Bill Gates will still have more wealth than a farmer in sub-Saharan Africa, but collectively half the world’s population has a lot of earnings potential.

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2016 election sample representativenessI always dread the inevitable "What do you do?" question. When you tell someone you are in market research you can typically expect a blank stare or a polite nod; so you must be prepared to offer further explanation. Oh, to be a doctor, lawyer or auto mechanic – no explanation necessary!

Of course, as researchers, we grapple with this issue daily, but it is not often we get to hear it played out on major news networks. After one of the debates, I heard Wolf Blitzer on CNN arguing (yes arguing) with one of the campaign strategists about why the online polls being quoted were not "real" scientific polls. Wolf's point was that because the Internet polls being referenced were from a self-selected sample their results were not representative of the population in question (likely voters). Of course, Wolf was correct, and it made me smile to hear this debated on national TV.

A week or so later I heard an even more, in-depth consideration of the same issue. The story was about how the race was breaking down in key swing states. The poll representative went through the results for key states one-by-one. When she discussed Nevada she raised a red flag as to interpreting the poll (which has one candidate ahead by 2 - % points). She further explained it is difficult to obtain a representative sample in Nevada due to a number of factors (odd work hours, transient population, large Spanish speaking population). Her point was that they try to mitigate these issues, but any results must be viewed with a caveat.

Aside from my personal delight that my day-to-day market research concerns are newsworthy, what is the take-away here? For me, it reinforces how important it is to do everything in our power to ensure that for each study our sample is representative. The advent of online data collection, the proliferation of cell phone use and do-it-yourself survey tools may have made the task more difficult, but no less important. When doing sophisticated conjoint, segmentation or max-diff studies, we need to keep in mind that they are only as good as the sample that feeds them.

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  • market research philadelphia farmersA recent post on my Facebook timeline boasted that Lansdale Farmers Market was voted the Best of Montgomery County, PA two years in a row. That’s the market I patronize, and I’d like to feel a bit of pride for it. But I’m a researcher and I know better.

Lansdale Farmers Market is a nice little market in the Philadelphia outskirts, but is it truly the best in the entire county? Possibly, but you can’t tell from this poll. Lansdale Farmers Market solicited my participation by directing me to a site that would register my vote for them (Heaven only knows how much personal information “The Happening List” gains access to).  I’m sure that the other farmers markets solicited their voters in the same or similar ways. This amounts to little more than a popularity contest. Therefore, the only “best” that my market can claim is that it is the best in the county at getting its patrons to vote for it.

But if you have more patrons voting for you, shouldn’t that mean that you truly are the best? Not necessarily. It’s possible that the “best” market serves a smaller geographic area, doesn’t maintain a customer list, or isn’t as good at using social media, to name a few.

  • A legitimate research poll would seek to overcome these biases. So what are the markers of a legitimate research poll? Here are a few:
  1. You’re solicited by a neutral third party. Sometimes the survey sponsors identify themselves up front and that’s okay. But usually if a competitive assessment is being conducted, the sponsor remains anonymous so as not to bias the results.
  2. You’re given competitive choices, not just a plea to “vote for me”.  
  3. You may not be able to tell this, but there should be some attempt to uphold scientific sampling rigor. For example, if the only people included in the farmers market survey were residents of Lansdale, you could see how the sampling method would introduce an insurmountable bias.

The market opens for the summer season in a few weeks, and you can bet that I’ll be there. But I won’t stop to admire the inevitable banner touting their victory.

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Purchase Funnel Measuring AwarenessWe at TRC conduct a lot of choice-based research, with the goal of aligning our studies with real-world decision-making. Lately, though, I’ve been involved in a number of projects in which the primary objective is not to determine choice, but rather awareness. Awareness is the first – and arguably the most critical - part of the purchase funnel. After all, you can’t very well buy or use something if you don’t know it exists. So getting the word out about your brand, a new product or a product enhancement matters.

Awareness research presents several challenges that aren’t necessarily faced in other types of research. Here’s a list of a few items to keep in mind as you embark on an awareness study:

Don’t tip your hand. If you’re measuring awareness of your brand, your ad campaign or one of your products, do not announce at the start of the survey that your company is the sponsor. Otherwise you’ve influenced the very thing you’re trying to measure. You may be required to reveal your identity (if you’re using customer emails to recruit, for example), but you can let participants know up front that you’ll reveal the sponsor at the conclusion of the survey. And do so.

The more surveys the better. Much of awareness research focuses on measuring what happens before and after a specific event or series of events. The most prevalent use of this technique is in ad campaign research. A critical decision factor is how many surveys you should do in each phase. And the answer is, as many as you can afford. The goal is to minimize the margin of error around the results: if your pre-campaign awareness score is 45% and your post-campaign score is 52%, is that a real difference? You can be reasonably assured that it is if you surveyed 500 in each wave, but not if you only surveyed 100. The more participants you survey, the more secure you’ll be that the results are based on real market shifts.

Match your samples. Regardless of how many surveys you do each wave, it’s important that the samples are matched. By that we mean that the make-up of the participants should be as consistent with each other as possible each time you measure. Once again, we want to make certain that results are “real” and aren’t due to methodological choices. You can do this ahead of time by setting quotas, after the fact through weighting, or both. Of course, you can’t control for every single variable. At the very least, you want the key demographics to align.

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